North Korea’s nuclear tests, severe weather and fears of a financial meltdown are boosting demand for underground bunkers in Maine.
Northeast Bunkers of Pittsfield is “busy as the dickens,” its owner said about the recent nuclear threats and hurricanes.
“Generally speaking, we have higher sales with these types of events,” said owner Frank Woodworth, a former general contractor who started his underground shelter business 15 years ago.
His two-person company sells four to six steel shelters a year ranging from 8×13 feet for two people to 8×20 feet for four people. Prices range from $40,000 to $60,000 installed. Customers are located across Maine, but mostly west of the 20-mile area near the coastline. He’s installed about 50 bunkers to date.
Customers who install bunkers are secretive about it, he said, declining to refer the Bangor Daily News to any of them for comment.
His company uses camouflage and indigenous trees and brush to hide the entrances. The bunkers, buried three to four feet underground with a doorway and stairs to get down to them, also have leach fields for septic, are near groundwater and have filtration systems to keep out gases.
Bunkers were popular in the 1950s and 1960s, especially during the Cold War and Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. One such shelter, built by an Augusta man in the 1950s, made the news in 2011 when officials said it was blocking a $17.3 million sewer project. The former owner said it was protection against a nuclear attack.
Nowadays, bunkers are built not just for doomsdayers, but for the wealthy worried about safety, and for others concerned about civil unrest, financial collapse and nuclear attacks. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian reportedly ordered an elaborate underground shelter after she was attacked in Paris.
Rising S Company of Murchison, Texas, is one of the largest bunker makers in the country, producing about 160, or 10 a year, since it started. About 30 of those bunkers are in Maine, including some near Portland, he said.
Echoing Woodworth’s comments about clients wanting privacy, he said only half a dozen of the total shelters he’s installed were done so with a building permit. Permits typically are required for expansions or buildings added to existing property.
Customers typically decide to order bunkers based on an accumulation of concerns, not because of one event, like the changing of a president, Lynch said.
“But we’ve seen an increase in sales recently in the last couple months with North Korea’s talk about and then doing missile tests,” he said. That includes four bunkers his company installed in Japan.
His shelters, which are custom built of steel and are square to allow more room, range from $39,500 up to the most expensive he’s sold so far, a $14 million, 8,000-square-foot bunker in metropolitan Los Angeles. It has a swimming pool and a bowling alley.
In Maine’s Farmington region, Margaret, a retired school teacher, and her husband, a retired Air Force colonel, had a 1,000-square-foot Rising S bunker installed in March. So far, the longest they’ve stayed in it without coming out has been 18 days. They bought the bunker over worries about war and the instability of the banking system.
“The U.S. is an enemy to so many nations,” said Margaret, who spoke via email through Lynch on the condition that her last name and exact location not be used.
She described the bunker as having three bedrooms and an open floor plan with a kitchen, dining and living areas. It sleeps 10 people. The amenities include an air filtration system, plumbing and a homey feel inside.
“I have decorated it with family portraits and other things from around our home so it really feels good when we go inside,” she said.